Wednesday, August 27, 2008

555 - restaurant review

Mr. Mouse and I had an anniversary and a gift certificate recently, so we decided to try one of Portland’s swankiest kitchens, 555 (located at 555 Congress Street). We made a reservation a week in advance which turned out to be smart; despite the late seating on a Monday night, the restaurant’s dining room and bar were both bustling. The restaurant space is gorgeous - open kitchen (of course - it's Portland after all), copper detailing, an upper seating area around the balcony looking down at the main dining floor.

Since it was a school night, we opted out of pre-dinner cocktails and simply ordered a bottle of wine. We Mouses like reds from Chile, Australia and New Zealand (because we are not pretentious oenophiles, plus we’re cheap and these countries have a good quality/value ratio) and were pleased to discover plenty of these on the list, finally going with a Villa Maria Pinot Noir from New Zealand. I didn’t care for it that much at first, but as the bottle breathed and the wine warmed slightly, it was quite quaffable.

We split an order of the Blue Hill mussels as an appetizer which were just incredible. The mussels were tender and the creamy broth contained house pickled cherry peppers, chive butter and roasted garlic had a great kick to it. Thick slices of toasted bread came with for dipping and I caught Mr. Mouse sneaking a spoonful of just broth because it was just that good.

For dinner, I selected the pan grilled pork tenderloin served with a teeny, tender cornmeal biscuit, local green and yellow beans, chanterelles and some nutty grains. Mr. Mouse (who picks his entrees based on what they don’t have - no mushrooms, chunky or whole tomatoes or avocado) went with the cod, which I believe was served with some sort of roasted pepper remoulade and grains as well … although I didn’t get to sneak a bite for myself and thus am a little unclear on exactly what he had.

The portion sizes could have been slightly bigger: they certainly weren’t Hugo’s-tiny, thank goodness, and while it was good to depart without feeling overstuffed, I’m sure Mr. Mouse could have used a little more protein on his plate. The food was all fine, but nothing spectacular and not certainly not any better than what you’ll find in other higher-end Portland restaurants (like Bay Bay Grill, Vignola or Street & Co., etc.).

Here’s the thing about our dinner at 555: the service was terrible on the night we were there. Now, perhaps it’s because we were there on a Monday and the A-staff wasn’t on the floor, and maybe if we were to go back it would be better. But this is what we got. We arrived right on time for our reservation but were kept waiting while an older couple, who walked in behind us with a reservation for the same time, were seated first. The busgirl spilled water all over the table when she filled Mr. Mouse’s glass. It took at least ten minutes for our waiter to even stop by menus/wine list, and then he didn’t come back to take the drink order for another 5-10 minutes.

We finally ordered the appetizer and entrees all at once and then, after waiting with an empty table for 20ish minutes, the mussels came out at the same time as our meals. Our waiter apologized and whisked the entrees away; Mr. Mouse watched as they disappeared into the kitchen but couldn’t tell if they were simply being kept warm or if we were going to get fresh new meals (the pork tenderloin was not at all overdone, although the cod was crispy-outside/mushy-inside, so who knows). Then, we had to twiddle our thumbs with a bowl of empty mussel shells before being cleared and served our meals...

Long story short, we were kept waiting a LOT - before, after and in between courses – while we noticed other diners, seated after us, being well attended to. I didn’t take it personally but it was disappointing, especially given the excellent level of service we have received from the above-mentioned other higher-end Portland restaurants. 555 is one of the few Maine restaurants that seems to always get a mention in the big glossy food and wine magazines. I’m sure its reputation is well-deserved but for the money we paid, the experience we got was lacking.


  1. We had the same experience with 555. We will never go back. Back Bay Grill was far superior. We didn't even wait to eat. They didn't come for our drink orders for 20 minutes and so we left and went to Salt Water Grill. 555 can go eat a bowl of *******!! - HeidiB

  2. Our sentiments too. We arrived on time for a Monday dinner and the hostess acted confused. That's okay- sometimes people get flustered. Then, the piece de resistance of faux pas was the idiotic demeanor of the servers. The primary server kept leaning and touching the back of my chair for the entire time he was near our table. It was such an intrusive mannerism. It made for an awkward dinner in anticipation of his every arrival!! Additionally, he insisted on referring to me as "Yes, madam." If I asked a question, he would answer with a " Yes, Madam, certainly , Madam." It was disgusting to say the least. What the hell is up with that? How about this: if a waiter has no fine dining experience, PLEASE don't fake it by using silly , inappropriate words to make it sound as if you are well qualified to work in an upscale restaurant. Most experienced diners can see right through the facade.
    I also mentioned that I was a vegetarian and instead of professionally addressing this situation, I was gazed at with deep confusion, then " Well, Madam, what would you like ?" What kind of response is that? How about you, as the waiter and rep of the establishment where I am about to spend $200.00, offering some fine dining expertise in the form of menu suggestions vis a vis the chef????
    The back waiter also approached our table and he,too, leaned his hand on the rear of my odd!. He then sneezed while in the dining room! Wow....
    I don't know if something has changed at 555( we have been eating here for years and have found the service in the past to be exemplary) but this was disappointing.
    Food is NOT the ONLY component to a wonderful dining experience.

  3. For the price and reputation this restaurant commands, every single dinner, and its accompanying service - Monday, Wednesday or Saturday - should be exquisite.

    Thanks for sharing your experience!